Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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THE PHILIPPINES is on track to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region this year, Moody’s Analytics said but faces risks from China’s slow economic recovery and a potential reacceleration of inflation arising from Russia’s exit from the Ukraine grain deal, India’s rice export ban, and El Niño.

Moody’s Analytics Chief Asia-Pacific Economist Steven Cochrane said the expansion of the Philippine economy will mainly be supported by strong domestic demand and high infrastructure spending this year.

“The Philippines is actually one of the faster-growing economies in the region and there are a number of positive factors that are helping the Philippine economy. One, inflation has come (down) quite a bit and that’s a good sign,” Mr. Cochrane said in a webinar on Wednesday.

Stable remittances and foreign direct investment will also help support growth.

“But even more important than that is broad consumer demand. It seems to be quite strong in the Philippines. So, the outlook is good,” he said.

In an e-mail to BusinessWorld, Mr. Cochrane said he projects 6% gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the Philippines this year, and 5.6% in 2024.

A slower-than-expected recovery in China may impact the Philippines’ overall trade and tourism, according to Mr. Cochrane.   

“Almost all of Southeast Asia and indeed much of the Asia-Pacific region is highly dependent on exports both to China as well as to developed markets around the world. For the Philippines, as of April, there hasn’t been any recovery yet in terms of exports,” he said.   

Exports dropped by 20.2% in April, marking the fifth straight month of decline. However, exports rebounded in May as it inched up by 1.9% to $6.44 billion, the fastest growth since the 13.1% logged in November 2022.

Mr. Cochrane said trade may improve as China announced on Tuesday it will be stepping up its policy support for its economy, focusing on boosting domestic demand.   

“I’m expecting that second-half trade will begin looking better. That is assuming that the economy continues to grow in the developed economies and that Chinese stimulus has a good impact on domestic demand and import demand from China,” he said.   

While the Philippine tourism sector has improved, Mr. Cochrane noted that visitor arrivals from China are at about 18-20% of their pre-pandemic levels.

Data from the Department of Tourism showed Chinese visitor arrivals reached 114,663 as of end-June. This accounts for 4.24% of the total number of foreign tourists.

The Philippine government’s new infrastructure projects have also added to positive investor sentiment, especially if the projects are finished on time, Mr. Cochrane said.   

The Philippine government hopes to spend 5.3% of GDP or around P1.29 trillion on infrastructure this year.

INFLATION RISKS
Meanwhile, Moody’s Analytics sees Philippine inflation averaging to 5.6% this year, a tad higher than the central bank’s 5.4% forecast. It expects inflation to ease to 2.5% in 2024.

Even though inflation has started coming down from its 8.7% peak in January, there are still significant headwinds, particularly on food inflation, Mr. Cochrane said.

“I was less worried about inflation until Russia’s exit from the Black Sea grain agreement. There could be significant increases in wheat prices. The Philippines doesn’t buy a lot of wheat directly from Ukraine, but with the global price rising, it’ll impact food prices in the Philippines,” he said.   

Last week, Russia exited a deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, raising fears this could push global grain prices higher and reignite inflation.

Prices of global crude oil have also gone up amid tighter supply, Mr. Cochrane said.

“We expected some increase, prices are still within a range that will allow for continued growth, but if it goes up much higher, if say for example, Saudi Arabia cuts production more or Russia cuts production more, we could see energy prices going back to that position of really giving a push to a renewed inflation,” Mr. Cochrane said.   

The El Niño weather pattern and the broader issue of climate change may also cause fuel volatility in food prices worldwide.   

“The experts have indicated that one of the biggest impacts of climate change could very well be a reduction in agricultural output globally and then an increase in prices,” Mr. Cochrane said.

“Right now, we’re seeing that impact from the potential impact from India as they are blocking exports of certain grains of rice,” he said.   

India last week ordered a halt to its largest rice export category to calm domestic prices, which climbed to multi-year highs in recent weeks as disruptive weather threatened production. India accounts for 40% of world rice exports.   

“If that becomes a common theme across the world, of countries trying to protect their own local consumers and put roadblocks in front of exports, tightening trade patterns might make agricultural goods more expensive,” Mr. Cochrane said.   

He hopes that discussions among countries will help address likely food protectionism and ease any impact from unilateral disruptions of food trade.   

Risks to the inflation outlook may prompt the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and other central banks around the world, to keep interest rates elevated for some time.

“I think that central banks in this part of the world, including the BSP, might be hesitant to begin that easing cycle which we expect sometime probably in this first or second quarter of next year,” Mr. Cochrane said.   

He noted that the BSP will monitor any possible rebound in inflation while keeping a close eye on the future policy decisions of the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.

“If there is any uptick in food prices, even though these are externally determined and not so much determined by domestic demand, it’s going to put a little bit of a roadblock in front of the central banks in terms of easing monetary policy too quickly. They’re going to want to make sure that at least inflation expectations stay low,” he said.   

The Monetary Board has hiked the key interest rate by 425 basis points to 6.25% from May 2022 to March 2023.   

BSP Governor Eli M. Remolona earlier said it is premature to talk about rate cuts, given that inflation is still elevated and global financial conditions may continue to tighten.   

The BSP will meet on Aug. 17 to discuss policy.

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